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Take a hike: 10 of the best walking and outdoor festivals around Ireland in 2024

Escape the 21st century with these events centred on walking, running, cycling and kayaking

In recent years the number of outdoors-based events in Ireland has multiplied like buds in May, providing opportunities to enter a simpler world free from mental logjams. Below are 10 great outdoor events coming your way in 2024. Challenges are available to suit all levels, and each event offers a unique window on the Irish countryside. So press the pause button on your 21st-century life and get close and personal with the fascinating Irish landscape.

Pilgrim Paths Week

Various locations, March 30th - April 7th

A springtime festival honouring Ireland’s pilgrim heritage, Pilgrim Paths Week sees a nationwide series of fully organised walks taking place on Ireland’s oldest trails over the Easter period. Local guides will lead each walk while outlining the story of the route and explaining how medieval penitents coped with their arduous journeys. Pilgrim walks are scheduled for counties Wicklow, Kerry, Cork, Donegal, Clare, Tipperary, Mayo and Waterford. For a contemplative Easter outing steeped in history and with all logistics taken care of, visit pilgrimpath.ie.

MTB Mountain Biking Festival

Laois and Offaly, April 20th-21st

This two-day festival is designed to showcase the recently created Slieve Bloom Mountain Bike Trails. The festival is based at Baunreagh, Co Laois, on Saturday; and Kinnitty, Co Offaly on Sunday. This is Ireland’s premier mountain biking event for families. The Coillte Biking Blitz competition is the main feature on Saturday and Sunday – a cross-country mountain bike event, aimed primarily at beginners but with something for everyone. There are three categories for adults to choose from: novice, e-bike or expert, plus youth events for six-year-olds and up. Social events are also being organised around the festival fringe, including a Big Movie Night dedicated to cycling films from across the world on Saturday evening in Kinnitty. bikingblitz.ie/index.php/mtb-festival

Slieve Bloom Walking Festival

Co Laois, May 4th-6th

This festival, in its 28th iteration, takes place during that wonderful time when the bluebells bloom and the hills are alive with birdsong. There is a choice of woodland walks, riverside saunters and hikes among gentle hills, led by experienced leaders with rucksacks full of stories and information on local history, geology, flora and fauna. The festival offers access to some of the most famous scenic areas of the Blooms including Glenbarrow, the Silver River, Brittas Lake and the Ridge of Capard. enquiries@slievebloom.ie, slievebloom.ie

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The Rhododendron Walking Festival

Co Tipperary, May 31st - June 2nd

Rhododendron is a tough cookie. Introduced to Ireland in the 18th century, it quickly established itself as a woodland bully. Invading many of our forests and mountainsides with sun-block foliage, it quickly exterminated the natural vegetation of the woodland floor, leaving the native animals and birds without a habitat. Compensating, perhaps, for this self-centred behaviour, it also rewards us, in early summer, with a breathtaking display of colour from its bell-like flowers.

In the Knockmealdown Mountains, this great annual flowering has developed into a tourist attraction. Now the canny denizens of the surrounding valleys have created a unique celebration – the Rhododendron Walking Festival. This takes place over the June bank holiday weekend, when the mountainsides are in full bloom. A family evening on Friday is followed by a choice of three walks on Saturday and Sunday, when everyone will get close and personal with the extraordinary flowering. vee.ie

The Irish Pilgrim Journey

Various locations, June 15th-22nd

A midsummer walk that offers the opportunity to explore our main passported pilgrim paths on a traverse across Ireland. The Irish Pilgrim Journey involves fully escorted walks and return transport to the start point, with knowledgeable, local guides leading each group and stamping pilgrim passports at the end of the walk. With five stamps, participants can obtain a Teastas (pilgrimage completion certificate) at the journey’s end in Ballintubber Abbey, Co Mayo. The dates are June 15th and 16th, St Finbarr’s Pilgrim Path, Co Cork; June 17th, Cnoc an dTobar, Co Kerry; June 18th, Cosán na Naomh, Co Kerry; June 20th, St Kevin’s Way, Co Wicklow; June 22nd, Tochar Phádráig, Co Mayo. pilgrimpath.ie.

Tour de Burren Cycle

Co Clare, June 22nd

The legendary tour, voted the best leisure cycling event in Ireland, occupies a special place on Ireland’s outdoor events calendar. It is organised by the Burren Cycling Club and is open to cyclists of all levels, including families. Each year, the event brings together more than 2,000 regular and first-time participants for a memorable weekend in west Clare. The tour is based in the picturesque village of Barefield and offers a choice of routes through the haunting Burren karstlands, ranging from the 160km Wild Burren Way to the 22km Dromore Family Spin. Along the way, food stops will introduce participants to locally produced cuisine, from brown soda bread and smoked salmon to the event’s legendary cheesecake. Register at eventmaster.ie/event/m9QkTyVFM8

Castlebar International Four Day Walks

Co Mayo, June 30th - July 3rd

Castlebar is one of Ireland’s fastest-growing towns, representing Mayo’s economic powerhouse. Although it is generally eclipsed for tourism by postcard-pretty Westport, Castlebar has the upper hand during the annual International Four Day Walks festival. walkers from around the world come to visit, to soak in the sublime surrounding countryside. Certainly, the Mayo outback offers much for walkers to marvel at while taking part in Ireland’s longest-established walking festival. There are outings to suit all levels of ability on a wide choice of routes, with 10km, 20km and 40km road walks each day and a guided six-hour cross-country hike. castlebar4dayswalks.com

The Knock ME Down Adventure Race

Co Tipperary, August 24th

This race is a great way to introduce yourself to outdoor adventure. It offers an opportunity to run (or walk), cycle and kayak your way through the hugely scenic Knockmealdown Mountain. The event is based in the pretty little village of Newcastle and organised by the very efficient community group Knockmealdown Active, and offers a choice of courses: a 35km challenge that is best suited to beginners, or the more demanding 62km Mór, which requires a good level of fitness. Both races take place on fully waymarked roads and forestry tracks, while the kayak section is across a hauntingly beautiful but very safe corrie lake. Booking will open in May 2024. To express interest, visit knockmedown.ie/2024-event.

Donegal Camino

Co Donegal, September 1st-7th

This is the brainchild of Inishowen businesswoman Peggy Stringer. It offers a week of walking where you are rarely far removed from the stunning Donegal coastline. Participants explore this harsh but unforgettable coastline on a series of autumn walks to raise funds for the Cancer Care West charity. The event, supported by Donegal personalities such as Deirdre McGlone and Noel Cunningham, offers seven days of unforgettable hiking and walking amid the Donegal highlands. Starting from Malin Head, the most northerly point in Ireland, the Camino will weave its way south to Europe’s highest sea cliffs on Sliabh Liag with the itinerary including an island visit, a sublime beach walk and a mountain ascent. donegalcamino.ie

Ballyhoura Walking Festival

Co Limerick, October 4th-6th

The 28th annual Ballyhoura Walking Festival, which takes place in October, provides an opportunity for an autumnal exploration of the secluded Ballyhoura Country of east Limerick and north Cork. The walks will be led, as always, by members of the Ballyhoura Bears Walking Club who possess an in-depth knowledge of the heritage, history, flora, and fauna of the area. Outings on offer are suitable for all abilities, from the experienced hikers seeking a challenge to ramblers who enjoy pleasant saunters with plenty of stops for stories along the way.

Then, as night descends, the darkened countryside will echo to the sound of music and melody since the walking event takes place in conjunction with the Joyce Brothers Music Festival. A weekend of traditional music, song, dance, and history, it celebrates local-born musicians and folklorists Patrick and Robert Dwyer Joyce. visitballyhoura.com